Multiple news agencies claimed Pakistani flag was unfurled by a Muslim family on the Republic Day.
On the night of India’s 74th Republic Day, several media outlets, including news networks and organizations—one of them South Asia’s largest multimedia news agency—carried a fake news and then tweeted it alleging that a Muslim family in Purnea, Bihar, had flown a Pakistani flag atop their home.
Among those who ran and tweeted the claim were ANI, CNN News, Times Now Navbharat, Zee Bihar News, India TV News, Mid Day, The New Indian, Times of India, OTV, Times of India Patna, New State Bihar and Zee MP Chattisgarh.
RSS mouthpiece Organizer and the extreme Hindutva propaganda website OpIndia were, expectedly, quick to jump on the bandwagon, tweeting about the alleged Pak flag hoisting.
Fact-checking website Alt News undertook a comprehensive investigation in which it was discovered that no Pakistani flag was hoisted as claimed by the news outlets but the one in question was a religious flag.
Purnea police also put out a statement rubbishing the media claims.
“We received info yesterday that a flag of another country is hoisted there. Taking into account the seriousness of the matter, it was investigated by Police. It was found that it’s an Islamic flag & not of any other country. It was verified by us,” Surendra Kumarr Saroj, SDPO Purnea, rebutted the claim in his tweet on 27 January.
Prior to that, the Superintendent of Police for the Punea District tweeted: “Today on 26:01:2023 at 17:30 in the morning, we got an information that in the region of Madhubani TPO, someone has raised a flag of some other country atop their house. It was discovered after further investigation that the flag, which had been lying there for a month, was a religious one.”
Alt News had been in touch with the SP who sent them an image of the flag after it was taken down by a Police official. The white coloured stripe with black zig-zag lines on it and the blue stripe can be easily seen on the flag. The flag had reportedly been hoisted nearly a month back.
“This flag has been waved on several instances in India in the past, especially during the celebration of Eid Milad-Un-Nabi to mark the birth anniversary of Prophet Muhammad, the founder of Islam. This flag has been seen in cities like Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Varanasi and New Delhi,” tweeted Alt News co-founder Mohammed Zubair.
In a series of tweets, Zubair argued that the media had been irresponsible, disregarding all ethics and caution by failing to even use the word ‘alleged’.
People who referenced the fake news amplified via multiple tweets said that “such” families should be denied access to all government schemes and that their ration and Aadhar cards should be revoked.
“There’s no cost to damaging your own country. Once such families are deprived of all national schemes, this nonsense will stop. Cancel their ration cards, Aadhar put on no travel list of railway, airlines etc, no Govt subsidies, no school support or admission in Govt school,” wrote a twitter user.
None of the news outlets posted any apology which only gives more credence to the accusations that a section of the media in India is hell bent upon further denting the interfaith harmony or whatever semblance of it remains. It is not for the first time that the media has carried and circulated fake news against a particular community.
Also, to jack up the TRPs, a section of the Indian media is often seen misreporting events involving Muslims and conducting media trials on subjects that are both sensitive and sub judice.
The media was also seen downplaying instances when Muslims were at the receiving end of a chain of lynchings. On the contrary, the uproar, especially in a particular section of the media, is too jarring, aggressive and obvious if it perceives the Hindu community being hard-done by. Similarly, the religion of those accused of rape and murder is brought up to show Muslims in bad light.
For example, the Shraddha Walkar news story was portrayed as “love jihad” – painstakingly constructed by RSS and other Hindutva gangs – from the moment it broke on November 12, thus reinforcing the stereotype that Muslim males are sexual predators out to seize Hindu women and convert them.
“Why is media giving ghastly, gruesome details of #ShraddhaWalkar murder, repeatedly quoting police sources? What is the intention? Why is the government not stopping this disturbing reportage impacting psyches of children and youth so negatively,” wondered a Twitter user.
In one of the articles published in Article 14, author Rohit Gosh says that the Hindu majoritarianism has affected Indian newsrooms.
“Bigotry is directing editorial choices like the framing of headlines and the selection and presentation of the news, together with the mainstream media’s submission to the ruling rightwing establishment,” writes Gosh.
“A story about Hindus and Muslims uniting for a cause is played down, but news about a Hindu-Muslim rift is highlighted. If a Muslim does something good, the news will be relegated to page 7 or 8. If a Muslim does something bad, the report will be flashed on page one,” the story quotes a journalist who pleaded anonymity. “An attempt is being made to demonize Muslims.”
The story quotes another journalist who says the leaders of the ruling party after 2014 amplified such thoughts, and it became a trend or fashion for people to express such views openly.
Indian newsrooms, according to Atul Chandra, who served as the resident editor of The Times of India’s Lucknow edition from 2001 to 2011 and who recently co-authored a book about Yogi Adityanath, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, are a mirror of the nation’s anti-Muslim prejudice.
“If Jai Shri Ram slogans are being raised in a newsroom, then it is only because we have become divided into communal lines,” the story quoted Chandra. “We have started thinking only on communal lines. The media has become too servile. Now, we have the expression ‘Godi Media’.”
According to a 2022 report by a global media watchdog, India’s standing on the World Press Freedom Index dropped to 150th place from 2021’s 142nd rank out of 180 nations.